2015, PG-13, 124 mins.
2015, PG-13, 124 mins.
Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano / Diane Ladd as Mimi / Virginia Madsen as Carrie / Robert De Niro as Rudy / Bradley Cooper as Neil Walker / Dascha Polanco as Jackie / Edgar Ramírez as Tony Miranne / Elisabeth Röhm as Peggy / Isabella Rossellini as Trudy
Written and directed by David O. Russell Russell
JOY is very odd movie.
in the sense that David O. Russell directs it with an atypically
indifferent and unsure hand. Odd
in the sense that it features an incredibly solid and authentic performance by
a largely miscast (I’ll explain later) Jennifer Lawrence.
Odd in the sense that it’s a loosely fact based film that deals
with a self-made millionaire that built her own financial empire out of a
mop invention…and it never really seems wholeheartedly focused on her or
her invention. Russell previously made the fantastic period film AMERICAN
HUSTLE and the dysfunctional family drama SILVER
LININGS PLAYBOOK – all with Jennifer Lawrence - which left me
excited to see yet another potentially dynamic team-up between the
effectively proven director/actor tandem. Alas, JOY feels somewhat unfinished and lacks perspective as
a whole and doesn’t seem to find a manner of making all of its divergent
parts gel cohesively together.
the film's positives I will say this: Jennifer Lawrence
has an intuitive knack for rising well above any occasion and acting
challenge and can elevate a film well beyond its problematic handling of
the material. She’s so
genuine and heartfelt in JOY and confidently occupies nearly every frame
of this film with a determined passion that most actresses can’t muster.
Yet, being in her mid-twenties, she seems kind of laughably miscast
here, seeing as the real life figure that inspired this film – Joy
Mangano – was pushing 40 when she struck gold with her patented Miracle
Mop in the 1990’s. JOY,
much like many of Russell’s past films, is about well meaning misfits
and societal rejects that desperately want another crack at life to
achieve their own version of the American Dream.
The film is replete with the type of loveable oddballs that only Russell
can conjure up, but his overall handling of the title’s character
journey to self-actualization and success seems hesitant, even when
harnessed by a crackerjack Lawrence.
film begins rather sloppily and takes seemingly forever for it to finally
dive headfirst into what it really wants to be about. Joy (Lawrence) has always been a keenly creative being, even
though most of her fellow family members have always been dismissive of
her unbridled ambition. Her
parents are proverbial basket cases.
The mother, Carrie (Virginia Madsen) is a reclusive drinker that
spends her entire day watching soap operas (Russell frequently uses a
framing device throughout the story featuring real life soap stars like
Susan Lucci and Donna Mills that never really works as an ethereal
commentary piece as well as he thinks it does).
The father Rudy (Robert De Niro) is so aggressively negative minded
and grumpy that’s it’s a small-scale miracle that Joy wants to have
anything to do with him. Joy’s marriage is also on the rocks, seeing as her husband
Tony (a very good Edgar Ramirez) is a failed singer that’s so destitute
that he has to live in Joy’s basement…even after their divorce. Joy’s work life is no better, seeing as she slums away at
menial customer service jobs that are emotionally crushing her by the day.
Only Joy’s grandmother (Diane Ladd) is a calm and soothing voice
of compassionate support in her life.
dealing with a fractured family life and marriage – not to mention
crippling debt – Joy manages to have an epiphany one day and develops a
working prototype for a special mop that can ring itself out and contains
a removable head that can be washed and re-used, dubbed by her as “The
Miracle Mop.” Of course,
trying to manufacture and sell the item is a constant uphill battle, but
she secures some much needed capital from Rudy’s girlfriend (Isabella
Rossellini) in order to produce a solid working model and numerous others
worthy of consumer purchase. Joy
even finds her product advertised on TV via a home shopping channel, run
by an slick and pragmatic TV network executive (Bradley Cooper) that gives Joy a
chance that she so desperately needs.
Unfortunately, a series of horrendous setbacks ensue, which may or
may not derail Joy’s dreams altogether.
one welcome change prevalent in JOY is that it represents a more
stylistically muted film for Russell when one considers his past resume.
This is arguably a good thing, seeing as it allows the central and
underlining story of Joy’s unlikely rise to fame and fortune to shine
more. The most memorable
aspects of the film is the whole developmental process of the Miracle Mop
and the incredibly convoluted struggles that Joy finds
herself in to simply advertise and sell it.
Having money – and enough money – is one thing, but being able
to produce mass quantities of the product – and on the relative cheap
– on opposite sides of the country proves to be just a few of the
many manufacturing woes that Joy has to deal with on a daily basis. JOY finds a pulse of interest when it begins to hone in on
the inherent stresses that inventers deal with and the legal and business
loops that they must go through in order to hopefully break even.
my main problem with JOY is that Russell’s screenplay seems
hyperactively all over the place. There’s
a lot of narrative terrain that the film must traverse through – Joy’s
unstable upbringing, her combative and unruly parents, her failed
relationships, her husband’s lack of occupational responsibility, etc.
– and some of it sticks reasonably well, but far too much of the first
half of JOY feels exhaustively expositional and has great
difficulty settling into the type of film that it wants to be.
Russell is confused from the get-go as to whether he’s
making yet another family melodrama or a biopic or an inspirational tale
of a headstrong woman overcoming incredible personal odds.
Ultimately, I think that Russell is less compelled by Joy and her
mop invention than he is with regrouping his actor alumni for another film,
which ultimately leaves JOY feeling uneven and lacking in purpose. For more or less, the film is mostly a star vehicle for
Lawrence without much thoughtful commentary directed towards its very subject matter.
damn, Lawrence is the performance glue that holds the ramshackle pieces of
this film together and makes it watchable.
She makes Joy a more deeply felt and multi-faceted character than
perhaps what’s even written on the page.
There’s an inherent grittiness and sense of palpable resolve that
Lawrence effortlessly exudes all through JOY that, with a lesser actress
at the helm, would have made the film a real chore to experience.
She’s well matched with Cooper (her third film with both him and
Russell), whose character could have easily been written as a dime-a-dozen
and hateful network executive that only wishes to milk Joy and her product
for whatever profit he can. There’s
a bit more layers to his character and his relationship with Joy than I
was frankly expecting; little attempts are made in the screenplay for the
two to become a romantic item, seeing as they are essentially business
partners. Cooper and Lawrence
have a performance short hand and instant chemistry that lends itself well
to the overall film.
Nevertheless, JOY never seems to pull itself successfully and completely together as much as I wanted it to. That, and even some narrative devices are introduced and then strangely disappear later for no reason (like Diane Ladd’s voiceover track that chronicles her granddaughter’s rags to riches tale). Russell is a deeply assured and disciplined director, but JOY unsatisfactorily emerges as a somewhat sloppy and undercooked effort from him. I never sensed the director’s obsession with Joy as a character and her journey. If anything, JOY feels like a half-hearted placeholder effort for Russell...and hopefully better things will come from him going forward.